Ben Rosher By: Ben Rosher
PhD candidate
View profile and Diary

06 Jan 2020 : (mis)hand-ling the pandemic

Our hands were the first bodily focal point of the pandemic and have played a unique role in materially and discursively narrating and navigating us through our current condition.

At the beginning of the pandemic, before masks were the primary preventative measure, we were told that washing our hands more frequently would halt the spread. At least 20 seconds. 2 happy birthdays. Temporality, corporeality, and popular culture combining in a handy rhythm to defeat the virus. We were to wash our hands every time they handled and then to keep them away from our face – hands are, ironically, always to be kept at arms-length.

Our hands were to be kept spotless in the face of the worst excesses of late capitalism as retailers gouged prices for scarce hand sanitiser, not afraid to get their hands dirty as we were forced to pay hand over fist.

Our hands, washed, sanitised, are then to be clapped, or not, (see Kandida Purnell’s excellent entry on the socio-political pressures of clapping in the name of carers, or heroes, or in the name of Foucauldian social discipline. The performativity of the clap is, as Ty Solomon has previously observed, a discursive washing of the hands by our political leaders. Rather than taking hold of the levers of power to provide more resource, pay, and PPE to the NHS they stand on the steps of Downing Street giving the health service a hand rather than a desperately needed hand out.

Yet, while the pandemic has been mishandled by the government, as indecision and incompetence has seen countless opportunities slip through fingers and the end moves agonisingly away from our fingertips, communities have showed their solidarity through lending a hand. Through carrying groceries to the doors of those who are shielding and knocking on the windows of grandparents and friends to give a heartfelt wave and remind each other that before too much longer we will, here’s hoping, be able to hold hands again.

Suffice to say, after this is done, I’m giving every single one of you a hi-five.

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